New Study Finds That Even the Good Kind of Ethanol is Terrible


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The United States has spent much of the last 30 years subsidizing ethanol production under the pretense that it's more environmentally friendly than gasoline. I say "pretense" because for years it's been completely obvious that corn ethanol is actually worse for the environment, that the overall production cycle stokes global warming even more than typical fuel, and that, in addition, it drives up world food prices, contributing to global hunger problems in the process. Also, it makes your gasoline less efficient. And yet this is something that we've repeatedly mandated and paid for. 

A new form of biofuel, cellosic ethanol, which relies on the detritus from the corn farming and production process, was supposed to fix some of these problems. It doesn't. A new study funded by the federal government and published in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that cellosic biofuels actually release more greenhouse gases than regular gasoline during an initial five-year timeframe. Via the Associated Press (AP):

Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and released Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.

The good news: The $1.01 per-gallon cellulosic biofuel credit expired at the end of December, 2013.

The bad news: The last time that happened, at the end of 2012, it was reinstated retroactively a little while later.

The predictable news: A tax extenders bill that includes a cellulosic biofuel credit just passed the Senate Finance Committee. Prior to the vote, Finance Committee members voted to stop an amendment that would have eliminated the biofuel and renewables tax credits included in the bill. 

Lots more from Reason on the madness of ethanol subsidies here.